Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Helen Ivory

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Helen Ivory

Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist.  She won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 1999 and is a current judge for the Awards. Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is the semi-autobiographical Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013). She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is a tutor for the UEA/National Centre for Writing online creative writing programme. Fool’s World, a collaborative Tarot with artist Tom de Freston (Gatehouse Press) won the 2016 Saboteur Best Collaborative Work award.  A book of collage/ mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me was published KFS last year. She was awarded Arts Council funding to work on The Anatomical Venus which will be published by Bloodaxe in April 2019. A  chapbook, Maps of the Abandoned City is forthcoming from SurVision Press.

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

I was doing a Cultural Studies Degree at Norwich Art School when I properly began to read poetry and then write it.  Prior to that I’d been in a Goth band and written songs  –  you know teenage angst stuff but with crows, earth witches and deathly love.  I think I’d always known that I wanted to do something with words but didn’t really know there was such a thing as being an alive person and being a poet.  I cliché I know, but there we have it.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

George Szirtes at Norwich Art School.  There was a creative writing part of the Degree, and the first or second session he bought in some poems by Vasko Popa and Hart Crane.  Imagery and metaphor packed into neat boxes.  I thought – yes, I want to do this!  I’d never come across writing so sparse and so strange, but then I hadn’t read much poetry before.  I got an ‘A’ for O level English, (which dates me!) but we didn’t really do poetry at my Luton high school, so this was a huge eye-opener.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Not at all because I came to it totally fresh.  I come from a visual art place, so my creative mothers and fathers are painters and animators – Leonora Carrington, Howard Hodgkin, Jan Svankmajer , Oliver Postgate. . .

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It is neither daily nor a routine!  When I am not teaching over summer I have a massive Helen Helen Helen blitz of writing time.  I sent off the manuscript for my new The Anatomical Venus collection to Neil Astley at Bloodaxe just before the summer and have been working on a sequence of poems called Maps of the Abandoned City these past months.  The collection was quite research and desk-based, but the sequence is wilder and freer and to get myself into this spirit, I’ve been working on my laptop at the beach or nested on the sofa with no internet.  So it has been going – breakfast, coffee, writing writing writing  – for as long as the first draft takes.  It’s been pretty blissful, but I am sure that if my year had no structure I wouldn’t be seizing this time so fiercely!

5. What motivates you to write?
The past few books have been project-based, so I get into the zone of something and then populate it with poems.  I think it’s the work that motivates me to make it, really.  One poem begets another and so on.

6. What is your work ethic?
I’d never really thought about this before now, but it appears to be – to find an idea/ theme and then cover it from every angle to the best of my ability . . . and try to reach beyond my ability! I don’t really think of writing as ‘work’, it’s more ‘play’ to me.  All creativity is play.  I do have goals though – which is the book.  Making the book or finishing the project is the goal. The goal is achieved when I run out of words.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I didn’t come from a bookish background, so I have no answer to this question.  My culture was Bagpuss, really.  The Mice on the Mouse Organ as fabulists, the whole cast as bricoleurs . . . making stories from broken things – shining them up and sending them on their way.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Charles Simic because he says a thing, says another thing, and lets the reader put them together in their head.  Pascale Petit because of her wild and visceral imagery.  George Szirtes for his magical and concrete fable-making, and sheer energy as a writer and generosity as a tutor.

9. Why do you write?
As an act of translation, as a way of restorying experience, because I can’t help it, because if I don’t I start climbing the walls and I forget what my name is.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I really have no idea how you become a writer – I would glibly suggest that you write and see how it goes! I never set out to become one, I just discovered that it’s something I can do.  Well actually – George Szirtes recognised this – I was just responding to homework exercises he suggested.  He told me I was a poet, which was useful because prior to that I was just a bowl of non-specific creative soup! Once you start thinking of yourself as a writer or a poet, you then find that you have a receptacle or channel for your creativity.  So, it’s partly a state of mind, and partly then, doing lots of reading to see what’s possible with language.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

The Maps of the Abandoned City sequence I mentioned earlier, is a cluster of poems around the idea of a city which humans have left.  There are creatures still there, and the remnants of human ‘civilization’ which consists of both architecture and trash.  This is the central idea, but I am also thinking of the city as a body, and the cartographer as a mythical being who was summoned to create order in a ramshackle creation.  It’s an imagined world, but probably this world told through metaphor and fable. I am always slant in my thinking!

This will be a chapbook eventually, to be published by SurVision Press in Ireland. At the moment there are twenty poems, and I am aiming for about another eight before the summer break is over.  With the nights drawing close, I guess I should probably get a shift on!


2 thoughts on “Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Helen Ivory

  1. Pingback: Celebrate Wombwell Rainbow Interviews with me over 26 Days. Today is Letter I. One letter a day displaying all the links to those interviews. We dig into those surnames. Discover their inspirations, how they write, how did they begin. Would you love to ha

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